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Richmond housing authority pauses evictions for at least 30 days

Nesmith gives remarks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Steven Nesmith, RRHA CEO, gives remarks on Friday, April 19, 2024 at the RRHA Administrative Offices in Richmond, Virginia.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is facing a $3M rent backlog.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced a new approach to lease enforcement amid public outcry over eviction cases it recently filed against residents.

CEO Steven Nesmith said the “Compassion Action Initiative” will focus on re-establishing relationships with residents, adhering to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, strengthening data collection and sharing with stakeholders, and addressing a $3 million backlog of unpaid rent.

At least 14 pending cases were dismissed from Richmond General District Court on Wednesday in a pause that Nesmith said would extend for a minimum of 30 days. RRHA said between 10 and 200 eviction proceedings have been initiated since the start of March and confirmed that any remaining on court dockets will be dismissed.

“Our lease enforcement pause was done, in part, due to my wanting to triple check our calculations to ensure that rents are properly calculated,” Nesmith said at a Friday press conference.

Michaela Ross, an attorney with Legal Aid Justice Center, said on Wednesday the dismissals are a “step in the right direction,” but added RRHA should do more to keep residents housed.

“This really matters right now because rent in Richmond has skyrocketed,” Ross said. “We have a significant shortage of rental housing units, and families who are evicted from RRHA face few, if any, choices of housing.”

Details of the initiative are not yet finalized, and the plan must be reviewed by RRHA’s Board of Commissioners before being implemented.

Prior to the announcement, RRHA and its leadership faced questions from city councilors and housing advocates about their accounting on past-due balances — and whether they have up-to-date info on residents’ income, which is used in monthly rent and repayment plan calculations.

Nesmith gives remarks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Steven B. Nesmith, RRHA CEO, gives remarks flanked by Charles Williams, Vice President of Public Housing, right, and Michael P. Kelly, Chief Operating Officer, and Kenyatta Green, Senior Vice President of Affordable Housing, on Friday, April 19, 2024 at the RRHA Administrative Offices in Richmond, Virginia.

At a City Council Education and Human Resources committee meeting on Monday, Councilor Stephanie Lynch was one of those questioning the calculations. She said two residents recently told her about having a case filed against them and claimed their income was not up to date with RRHA, despite efforts to get in touch with the authority.

A recent HUD audit on a random sample of 35 RRHA tenant files found errors in 66% of them. In response, RRHA requested confirmation of which files were said to contain errors.

“We weren't provided those [files] to confirm whether it was actually a [mis]calculation or whether there was a misunderstanding,” said Kenyatta Green, RRHA senior vice president of affordable housing, at the Friday press conference.

The authority defended its calculations, saying it’s working to review ledgers with residents, council members and advocacy groups.

Lynch told VPM News she wants to secure a right to counsel for people facing evictions, and noted $500,000 in Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed budget would establish a program for Richmonders in eviction court through the Public Defender’s Office.

RRHA officials did not rule out the possibility of receiving funds from city council or selling undeveloped properties to cover the $3 million rent backlog.

“We're actually thinking out of the box on a number of ways to deal with the problem,” said Nesmith.

The Compassion Action Initiative will likely be presented at RRHA’s next Board of Commissioners meeting on May 15 — or during its June meeting.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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